A few weeks ago, the carcass of a sperm whale washed ashore on the Italian island of Sardinia. Opening the whale's belly, they found an already-deceased fetus and a massive amount of plastic. That plastic totaled 22 kilograms.
A few weeks before that, a young male whale washed up on the coast in the Philippines, and in his stomach was 40 kilograms of plastic bags.
The cause of death for the whale was dehydration and starvation, and the plastic in his stomach played a major role in his death. There were also signs that the whale was vomiting blood before he died, so one can imagine that he suffered greatly as well.
After searching a bit more, numerous other cases of whale carcasses with plastic inside were reported even before those two.
In fact, it appears that plastic accounts for more than 80% of all debris in the ocean, and that debris is undoubtedly having devastating effects on marine life. Plastic degrades very slowly, and remnants such as microplastics can be found in the seafood that finds its way into the human food chain, which makes it clear that this is not a problem that affects only the oceans.
In Europe, a bill placing a ban on disposable plastics was recently passed. Member states are planning to impose a ban on products that can only be used once, such as cotton swabs, straws, and cutlery, by 2021. Furthermore, under newly passed laws, tobacco companies will be required to cover costs related to the collection of cigarette butts, and fishing equipment manufacturers will also be required to pay for the recovery of plastic fishing nets left in the ocean.
While this is an important bill, I believe that raising public awareness is key. Do people really understand the proper way to dispose of plastics? Are they thinking about how many years it takes for plastics to break down when they buy plastic products? I think that no major changes will occur until each individual's awareness increases and they change things around themselves.
When I went shopping yesterday, I noticed that the products on the shelves were different than last time. In a nearby supermarket, the straws were made of paper, the cutlery was biodegradable, and the plates made of paper and even palm leaves were available.
I believe that the distribution industry, which has the most direct impact on the public, making efforts to reduce the number of plastic products available serves as a clever shortcut when addressing issues relating to the plastic problem.